By Transmute Jun
In this age of binge-watching and episodic television, the self-contained show seems to have been forgotten. We love long, drawn-out stories where we can really get to know and feel for the characters, where plots take time to develop, and where a payoff that is episodes in the making feels almost euphoric. And so it is with many of today’s most popular programs, such as Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead or Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. And yet, in the rise of streaming services and binge-watching, a classic television format has been largely ignored.
Back in those olden days, before you could watch anything you wanted any time you wanted, you had to wait at least a week between episodes. And not everyone would tune into a program every week. As such, many programs were self-contained, meaning that you could watch a single episode and the story would be fully completed, with a beginning, middle and ending, and you would feel satisfied at the end of the program that you had watched something worthwhile, that did not require any further time investment. You could watch a program that was interesting and thought-provoking, but it didn’t have to develop over hours and hours of television and previous episodes. It was all in one.
I used to watch programs like this all the time, but I’ll admit that until recently, I hadn’t done so for years. It took watching three episodes of Dimension 404, an upcoming show from Hulu, to remind me of this medium, and to show me once again the joys of short stories in the television arena.
Dimension 404 is a throwback to the old Twilight Zone-style of storytelling. Each episode is a completely standalone story, with new characters and plotlines, fully contained within less than 60 minutes. And just as was done in Twilight Zone, every story is out of the ordinary: something that starts in the world we know, but never finishes there. Each episode has a kind of sci-fi twist, altering our reality into something slightly different.
When I first started watching Dimension 404, I was immediately pulled in by the cheesy Men In Black-style introduction, which even drew the attention of people nearby, wondering what the heck I was watching. This introduction led straight into a story that seemed ordinary, but one narrator Mark Hamill assured me was most definitely not. I’ll admit, this is where things began to lull for me. Each of the three episodes I viewed seemed a bit trite and dull. I felt as if I had watched something like this before, and could see the ‘twist’ coming a mile away. And then I was proven wrong. Again and again.
While some of the plot twists I was anticipating came to life, what happened afterward was not expected. Even the most predictable of the three episodes I watched came with an ending that was far from anything I had envisioned, and something that sparked my imagination. While the startup to each episode could be pedantic, the payoff in continuing to watch was definitely there. Each episode explored a single sci-fi idea, then took it to its extreme conclusion. I found myself satisfied at the end of my viewing, feeling that I had watched something worthwhile. If Dimension 404 continues producing this kind of content, I know I’ll be watching the remainder of the series.
Dimension 404 is clearly a reference to the HTTP 404 ‘not found’ error, referencing the ‘out of reality’ nature of each episode. As such, it isn’t surprising that the program premiers on 4.04 (April 4) on Hulu, where you can watch single episodes, or binge, to your heart’s content.
Do you plan to watch Dimension 404? Click here to join the conversation on FoCC!